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Why India’s urban poor and rural population inherently have a robust immunity


By Poornima Bisineer, Sandeep Pandey*
As the second more virulent wave of coronavirus rages on, the urban areas seem to be more adversely affected compared to the rural areas. Although, there are cases and deaths being now reported from rural areas too but the numbers in cities is disproportionately higher. And within the cities the better off localities seem to be more adversely affected than the slums, although ironically slums are more densely populated and because of this it is not possible for people in slums to maintain physical distancing and most people here are carefree about putting on masks. Given that about half the people in India are malnourished and anaemic and most of this population would presumably be in rural areas or urban slums, deprived sections of population seem to be coping with coronavirus in a far better manner than the well-to-do section of society, comes as a surprise.
What are the inferences we can draw from the abovementioned observations. The rural and urban poor population apparently has inherently more immunity to the virus compared to more affluent people living protected lives. Middle and upper middle class have a distinctly different life style than the poor and rural people. They confine themselves to more indoor activities and are removed from physical labour. Rich among them probably spend a substantial amount of time in air-conditioned spaces. On the other hand urban poor and rural people are engaged in physical labour and are out in open most of the time. This probably explains why even with poor health indicators, the urban poor and rural population inherently has a robust immunity and can resist the virus attack better. Hence living close to the nature and breathing fresh oxygen is the key. There are hardly any reports from tribal areas, where people are closest to nature, of coronavirus cases or deaths due to it. Tribals are in any case known to deal better with natural calamities because of their innate instincts.
A human being cannot meet his/her physical needs without engaging in labour. The rich are able to meet all their needs without doing any labour because it is the poor who labour on their behalf. For example, from growing and cooking and bringing the food to table is done by other people for a rich person. He enjoys the labour of others.
Coronavirus has shown the limitation of us as humans and our so called knowledge. The rich with all their luxury and social comforts feel insecure as for the first time money is not able to buy them a guarantee to remain alive. Scientists and doctors feel their knowledge and skills are not enough to save human lives. Ultimately it is the shortage of Oxygen, which is otherwise present to the extent of 21 % in natural air, which is choking lives. All the might of powerful militaries and modern sophisticated armaments are not able to defend lives of our fellow countrymen and women. Ironically, traditional enemies are offering help. Coronavirus has erased the divisions among human beings and has made us think about the purpose of our existence.
The direction of the argument is leading us to Mahatma Gandhi’s thesis in Hind Swaraj. He is opposed to machinery when it cripples the limbs of men. He argues that in pursuance of mechanization or industrialization in order to save time and labour we have arrived at a situation where people are without work and hence face starvation. He accepts contraptions like sewing machine because he thinks that it fulfills a primary need of human beings, i.e., to stitch clothes, but according to him traversing distance with rapidity of motor car is not a primary need. According to him all machines, including human body, are useful so long as they subserve the growth of soul. He did not want humans to become slaves of machines. He considered railways and hospitals as necessary evils.
It is true if human beings lived close to nature they would probably not have to visit doctors very often or would rely on traditional ways of healing. Hence if we have to prevent more Covid like diseases we should learn to live more in harmony with nature.
Additional problem which has arisen in the second wave of coronavirus is that due to large number of deaths taking place we are witnessing continuous burning of bodies in some cremation grounds. Needless to say it requires tremendous amount of wood and creates huge pollution. Communities which practice burning of bodies must think of switching over to burying human corpses. Question of physical space may arise then. If dead bodies are buried with a sapling planted on top instead of creating a permanent or semi-permanent structure, practice followed in Anandwan established by Baba Amte in Warora, Chandrapur District of Maharashtra, then one doesn’t have to limit oneself to a well defined graveyards. Poor lower caste communities, even among the Hindus, often bury the dead in their agricultural fields. Then there are communities like Lingayats which traditionally practice burial rather than burning. First writer’s mother has asked her to bury her in a burial ground with no construction over it so that eventually the space could be used to bury someone else. Significance of burying is to become one with nature and our body being utilized by other organisms. In burning the latter doesn’t happen. Burying is a environmentally more friendly way of disposing dead bodies and it should be adopted by all rational human beings.
The best would be, of course, if we chose to donate our bodies to medical colleges for students, or our organs for people who need them.
Our survival as a species depends on adapting ourselves so that we are one with the nature and believe in a worldview which is holistic. The industrial civilization has taken us farther away from it.

*Poornima Bisineer, MBBS, is from Lingayat community; Sandeep Pandey, a Magsaysay award winning social activist, is Vice President, Socialist Party (India)

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